Murder In One Take
Sample Chapter

     If I don’t die in the next two minutes, Blake thought, I have a pretty good chance of being alive at the end of the day.  As a police detective, he was aware of the risk involved when interacting with the armed and dangerous criminal element of the ironically named City of Angels, but he was pragmatic enough to admit the most harrowing part of his workday was backing out of his carport onto that snaky ribbon of asphalt that was Lookout Mountain Avenue.
     When he had bought the house three years earlier he considered only two things, the just-shy-of-Olympics-sized swimming pool in the sunken back yard, and the record-low interest rates that meant his mortgage payment would be lower than rent on the elfin-sized West Hollywood apartment he shared with an actor-waiter hyphenate.
     The realtor had sucked the naiveté out of him the way a hyena does marrow, using words like “lush, tree-shaded seclusion” rather than the less salable “brush-fire hazard,” and reframing the house’s seediness as rusticity.  She confided that an über producer had lived there before massive success propelled him out of hippy-dippy Laurel Canyon and into the more rarefied atmosphere of Bel-Air.  Her proof was the image of the computer-generated dragon who had been the star of the producer’s first blockbuster movie, painted on the underside of the toilet lid in the master bath.
     Having foolishly bragged about his new home’s pedigree at the station, Blake quickly learned there wasn’t a house, apartment, bungalow or hotel room in LA that didn’t claim at least a tenuous link to Hollywood legend, past or present.  He didn’t care; he loved his home and had spent the last thirty-six months on do it yourself projects to soften its flaws and inch it back toward its glory days, circa 1978.
     The only problem Blake hadn’t been able to solve was the poorly designed carport.  There were no sidewalks up in the canyon, and the impossibly short concrete ped went right to the road’s edge with no driveway at all.  The carport was just wide enough that you could nose in two vehicles—as long as you didn’t try to open your doors all the way.  Since the cramped space wouldn’t allow even the smallest of wheel bases to negotiate a three-pointer, and because the house was situated just south of the hairiest of the many hairpin turns, every morning Blake backed out blindly and hoped for the best.
     Today the man he had decided was a banker did not come hurtling down the mountain in his Hummer, cell phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, and Lord-only-knows-what steering that boat.  No agitated soccer mom in her suburban assault vehicle careened around the hairpin, yelling at the kids in the back seat while trying to keep her coffee in its cup as the SUV tilted against the centrifugal force of the turn.  And mercifully, not one of the future Indy 500 drivers attending Hollywood High was qualifying this morning.
     Hey, thought Blake, as he headed down the mountain, a quarter past five and no one has tried to kill me yet.  He drove the tree-lined corkscrew down to the light at Laurel, where the lack of gridlock finally made him realize why this morning was different; he was leaving two hours earlier than usual, so the hookers, junkies and club zombies had just gone to bed, while the worker bees, tourists, and people of leisure hadn’t gotten up yet.
     Say what you will about the mass-death horror of a postapocalyptic hellscape, Blake mused, but the driving’s going to be sweet.

Blake Ervansky was on his way to pick up Sgt. O’Brien, his partner of less than twenty-four hours.  Yesterday had been the last day for Artie Lafferty, his previous partner, and it was during the cake, coffee and gag-gift send-off party that the lieutenant had brought O’Brien in to be introduced.
     The subtle hiss that accompanied O’Brien’s entrance had been the sound of a man sucking in his gut, multiplied by a factor of every male cop in the room.  In a city where the bar for beauty was set almost impossibly high, Sgt. O’Brien was a stunner.
     “Ervansky, I’d like you to meet your new compadre, Sgt. Maureen O’Brien.”
     “Hey,” Blake said, extending his hand and getting a firmer handshake than he had anticipated. 
     “Good to meet you.”
     “And this is Artie Lafferty,” continued the lieutenant.  “He took early retirement rather than spend another day in a car with Det. Ervansky.”
     Hoots from the crowd as Artie also shook hands with the new member of the squad.  “You know, Boss, I’m rethinking this whole retirement thing.  Maybe Blake should go and I’ll ride with O’Brien.”
     Sgt. O’Brien smiled good-naturedly as she shrugged and said, “Fine by me,” eliciting a few more responses from the entertained audience.
     The lieutenant glanced over at the two female detectives who watched with amusement as all the boys preened and posed.  “I’m counting on you two to make sure none of these guys gives Sgt. O’Brien a reason to discharge her firearm into his person.  Blake, can I have a word?”
      Artie began making intros all around while Blake followed Lt. Rhee into his office.
     “Go ahead and shut the door,” Rhee said, settling into the chair behind his desk.
     “What’s up?”
     “Two things.  First, you’re not going to be in on the Pico takedown tonight.”
     “Give me a break!  I’ve been working that case for three months.”
     “We’ve all been working it,” Rhee admonished.  “So nobody’s going to be a superstar tonight.  Between our guys, SWAT, the K-9 unit, those two from the DEA, well, I’m pretty sure we can do this without you.”
     “Who’d I piss off this time?”
     “The usual, but that’s not why you’re sitting it out.”  He took a sheet of paper from his desk and handed it to Blake.  “We finally have a fix on Randall Vayne.”  As Blake scanned the page, an incredulous look on his face, the lieutenant continued.  “A year we’ve been trolling for the creep and he’s working five blocks away.”
     “Well, I guess sometimes you just can’t see the felons for the trees.”
     “He’s a nervy bastard, all right.  Got a stock clerk job, although how a high-end store like Carrera’s didn’t see through his phony resume is beyond me.”
     “I’m guessing he leaves off all that grand larceny and incarceration stuff.”
      “Yeah, well, before he backs up a U-Haul and makes off with a few million bucks’ worth of designer suits, I want you and O’Brien to grab him when he shows up to work at seven tomorrow.”
     “Why don’t we just do it now?”
     “By the time I got that e-mail, he had left for the day, and we still don’t know where he’s holed up.  Our best bet is the store, and we’ve got to do it before regular shopping hours.”   
      “Manager squeamish about street scum getting cuffed in front of his swanky-danky clientele?”
     “Not the adjective he used, but you have the gist.”
     “Okay,” Blake sighed, laying the sheet of paper back on Rhee’s desk.  “I’ll do it.  But you owe me a violent drug bust.” 
     “Put it on my tab.”
     Blake crossed toward the door, but just before he got his hand on the knob, the lieutenant spoke again.
     “Hey, Blake?”
     “You remember the job I sent you and Artie out on your first day?”
     “The rabbit smugglers?”
     “Well, while you two were busting an old Asian man for sneaking bunnies over the border, the rest of us went into a warehouse full of cocaine with guns blazing.”
     “And the moral of that story is what, you didn’t think I was up to the task?”
     “The moral is I don’t like any of my people getting shot at on their first day.”  He reached for the phone and started dialing.  “Call it a quirk.”
     When Blake got back to the squad room, everyone had gone but Artie and Sgt. O’Brien.  It was only a little after four, but the deets had gone home to rest up before their midnight rendezvous back at the station.
     “There he is,” boomed Artie.  “I was just getting O’Brien wired into the system.”  He glanced down at the sergeant, who tapped away at the computer on his old desk.  “Got your password set?”
     “Yep.  I was torn between password and booger, so I went with the less obvious.”  She hit a final key, looked up and smiled.  “Done.”
     Artie slung his bear-like arm around Blake’s shoulders and gave a quick crunch.  “You take care of my partner, Sarge.  He’s like a brother to me.”
     “A taller, better-looking and much-younger brother,” Blake added, then winced as Artie’s second crunch did some damage.”
     “Blake, I’ll see you tomorrow night at Roy’s.  And you are welcome to join us,” he said to O’Brien.  “I’m buying.”
     “Thanks, Detective.  I may take you up on that.”
     Artie turned to leave, raising his right hand in a combination salute and wave.
     Sgt. O’Brien looked up at Blake.  “Roy’s?”
     “Roy’s Ranchero on West Olympic.  So-so Tex-Mex and a full bar.”
     “What’s the occasion?”
     “Artie’s real going-away party.  Cake and coffee here in the house is just a bit of kabuki theater for the brass.  No cop in this squad retires without consuming his body weight in beer, tequila and enchiladas.”
     “I’ll see if I can still squeeze into my quinceańera gown.”
     As Blake sat at his own desk, he couldn’t help but smile at the mental picture of this very Irish redhead in a flouncy wedding cake of a dress for the Hispanic equivalent of a bat mitzvah.
     “So, while you were in with the lieutenant, I heard some buzz about a raid tonight.”
      “Yeah, well, it turns out you and I aren’t invited to that shootout.”
     “Damn.  And I wore my Kevlar cami today.”
     Blake barely contained the urge to drop his gaze to her chest, maintaining eye contact as she grinned.  He had the distinct impression she knew exactly what he was desperately trying not to do.  “No, you and I have an early morning date to pick up one of America’s Ten-Least-Wanted criminals.  He won’t be armed, but he is slippery.  And fast.”
     “I’ll wear running shoes, Detective.”
     “Just Blake.”
     “Blake it is.  And I’m Maureen.”
     “So, do people call you Mo?”
     “Only once.”
     “Got it.  Sorry I had to leave you to the wolves earlier, but I assume Artie gave you the tour.”
      “He seems like a terrific guy.  They were all really nice.  Well, all but one.”
     Blake dropped his chin to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut with aggravation.  “Willis?”
     “Does he gets all his material from the Bob Guccione pick-up manual?”
     “Let me give you a blanket apology for anything and everything Willis says to you in the coming months.”
     “I’ve seen worse.”
     “You could do us all a service by goading him into making a sexist remark in front of witnesses.  One more flag in his file and he’ll be busted down to uniform.”
     “I can do that.  But first I’d like to bat him around like a ball of yarn for a few weeks.”
     The smile she flashed Blake was dazzling.  Evil, but still dazzling.



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